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February 14, 2014

Cadillac Ad Attempts the Impossible: Selling Electric Cars As A Pro-America, Patriotic, Anti-Socialist Statement of Principle

What is the problem with electric cars, marketing-wise? (Let's put aside their technical problems, and the problem marketing a vehicle with technical problems.)

Well, for a lot of possible buyers, an electric car represents a buy-in to a specific mode of life that is alien to them -- granola-crunchy, limousine liberal, soft-headed and soft-handed, and suspiciously European in taste.

This is especially a problem for a Cadillac electric car, as (I'm just speculating here) the Cadillac brand seems to appeal to two groups:

1. Older, wealthier business-oriented buyers, who are probably conservative in culture and politics.

2. Rappers.

Well, this ad is designed to appeal to category 1.

So here's what Cadillac does: They pitch to that exact demographic by making fun of stuff that more conservative people make fun of, chiefly, the French.

They do not sell the car on the basis of environmental impact. They sell the car on the idea that you'll be teaching the French a lesson in How to Be a F***ing Man by buying a f***ing electric car.

It's a ridiculous, brazen effort to turn the electric car from being an effete progressive's Trader Joe Run puttermobile into a red-blooded American's middle finger to socialist decay, and yet... well, you be the judge. It's a good ad, let's just say that. I don't know if they could ever possibly sell this idea, but the ad is as good a shot at it as I can conceive.

The actor here will be familiar to most of you; he's Neal McDonough. He's in everything. He was one of Captain America's Howling Commandoes; he played psychotic blond hitman Robert Quarles in Justified a season or two back. (It didn't end well for him there.)

He famously refuses to do any sex scenes (or, I think, even use profanity) in his roles because he considers that part of his Catholic principles. (On the other hand, he plays psychotic villains a lot, and so he does all the violence and menacing stuff.)

So here's Cadillac attempting the impossible: Trying to convince conservatives that an electric car is kind of a conservative thing.

It's impossible, and yet, I applaud anyone who attempts the impossible.

This ad is a good illustration of the basic principle that many products are not sold strictly on utility. Many products are sold much more on the suggestion that they signal a cultural affiliation. Starbucks isn't just selling coffee, of course. The coffee they sell you costs a buck; the rest of the cost represents the sale of "The Starbucks Lifestyle."

I think this is all a little bit silly, that is, until I myself start looking at a personal purchase and wondering, "What would this particular purchase say about me? If I buy this notebook, as opposed to that one, what culture or tribe am I identifying myself with? If I buy that Moleskine notebook, am I trying to pretentiously advertise myself as a writer? And: Is it the case that I do in fact want to pretentiously advertise myself that way? And if so, how obvious do I want to be about that, or how subtle?"

Well, actually, I still think it's all very silly and irrational; I'm just confessing that I of course do it as well. We're all at least a little bit silly and irrational.

Update: As Ed Driscoll notes, and commenters have suggested, Cadillac's parent company GM -- or "Government Motors," as many say, post-bailout -- isn't really the most convincing pitchman for capitalist vigor:

I only wish General Motors walked the walk as well as their pitchmen talk it. As Jonah Goldberg said in 2009, the period in which General Motors transformed itself — at least for a time — into Government Motors, “the old adage ‘Everyone’s a capitalist on the way up and a socialist on the way down’ is kicking in. The thing is, if you’re a socialist on the way down, you were never really a capitalist on the way up. Capitalism requires putting your own capital at risk.”

Update: Upon further review, this is not an "electric car" per se, but an electric/gas hybrid.

Update: I think we've seen this ad before, haven't we?

I have to dock the ad because of this. Like a song you like because you liked another song just like it before, this ad follows the script of the Dollar Shave Ad very, very closely, in staging and script and tone and, well, everything, except the guy in the bear suit.

digg this
posted by Ace at 02:05 PM

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